My formal training is as a linguist, not an English teacher, so I know that language is a fluid thing. What is considered incorrect can become correct through a critical mass of mainstream usage. But there are just certain “wrongs” that I’d hate to see gain enough traction to become “right”.

Are you guilty of using any of these? Do you think we should love ‘em (accept these transgressions and let them creep into our textbooks) or leaveem?

 There’s Trouble in Them Thar Words

In the English language, many words with different meanings and spellings can prove vexing because they are pronounced the exact same way.

Case in point: the homonymous trio there/their/they’re.

See if you can spot the errors in the sentence that follows.

There are many people who think their smart, but often they’re spelling is suspect.

You guessed it. There are many people who think they’re smart, but often their spelling is suspect.

Some people truly do not grasp the difference in meaning between these three words. However, more often they just don’t take the time – in our culture of hyper speed –  to figure out the correct usage. Esp in txts. Or if you allow auto fill free rein. Even as I write this post, my auto fill is short-circuiting over our vexing trio.

When writing in your daily life, whether crafting presentations or shooting quick emails, you might have a feeling that you’re choosing the rightish word. But it always pays to be sure – your credibility could be at stake.

It doesn’t have to be that tricky. Let me show you…

  • They’re is the most straightforward, but seems to cause the most confusion. It is simply a contraction of they + are. Did you see Mike’s shoes? They’re so cool.
  • Their indicates the third person plural possessive adjective. You use it to indicate something belongs to them. The students brought their lunches to school every day.
  • Everything else falls under the there umbrella. It can be an adverb (She sat there for two hours.), a pronoun (There is no reason to get frustrated with all of these words.), an adjective (That car there sure is a beaut.), a noun (You can’t get there from here.) or an interjection (There! I finally figured it out!)

If that’s too much information to muck around with, I offer you a handy mnemonic haiku.

Their belongs to them

They’re is just short for they are

Otherwise, it’s there.

There – is that clear?